Today, my perception of the color of my skin shifted. Before, I knew it as a pigment, a result of the sweet kisses from the sun I bathed in. An inheritance from my African American mother and South American father. I knew it as a visual representation of the blood that flows in my veins, gifted to me from unknown ancestors. Before, it was a connection to my past, but today the color of my skin birthed a new understanding of my future.
I began the day as I usually do, with a phone call to my parents as we continued practicing social distancing, shielding ourselves from COVID-19. Except for today, I was also letting them know that I would not be socially distancing because today, something other than my health became more immediate: ensuring my Black brothers’ and sisters’ safety and livelihood. The injustice that takes place in this country is deeply rooted in the soil, its foundation intricate, nourished from ignorance and fed from fear. Over time, the wooden stem grew, penetrating the surface, branching into twisted methods to keep my people down: systemic racism, internalized racism, individual racism. So many hulls crafted from the same oak, but each vessel made to constrict and terminate the Black American dream.
My father, worried for my safety, wonders if I know how to properly conduct myself if I am brought up against the police and proceeds to give me advice and remind me of my rights. I hear his pride radiate through the phone, bringing with it his history of fighting to be seen as a Colombian man in America with a dream. “Paciencia y valor, nena” he tells me, sending me off to the duty he knows I owe to my people. My mother, well, she would prefer I fight this a safer way instead of risking a criminal record and giving them the satisfaction of making me the status quo. But she knows that there are not enough words in the English or Spanish language to convince me otherwise; I am her daughter, after all, and the apple doesn’t fall far. As they always have, their blessings form a helmet of confidence that I take with me on my march.
With hours of determined and purposeful steps pressed into the soles of my sneakers, my voice hoarse from the cries for justice I had shouted the day before. My body starts to weaken from the California heat, the haunting sounds of police sirens closer and closer as the helicopters hover over us. Words of caution spread quickly throughout the group, and I start navigating my way through the crowd, assessing my surroundings. I begin repeating my father’s advice to comfort myself. As the crowd is pushed closer together and the shouts from law enforcement order us to stand down, we are told to take out our phones and use them as a weapon to record the injustice so we can hold the guilty accountable. I then wonder, even if I had taken every precaution known to man, would it be enough to take on the enemy, the oppressors, and the soldiers they deploy to maintain their order? What is one African American Latina to a whole tree rooted in ignorance?
Walking past a storefront, I stop in my tracks, distracted by the reflection, my reflection, the sounds of my surroundings drown and I start to feel a tingling all over my skin. I am convinced God hears my doubt because I see the sun illuminating a unidirectional flow of particles onto me in my reflection, reminding me of my color’s power. As the sunbeams and my skin tingles, I realize the pigment handed down to me from those that came before me wasn’t just a manifestation of my past but a suit of armor, equipped with the magic and power to take on the ignorant Goliaths this country has thrown at us. My ancestors who fought for freedom resurrected and formed a shield of guidance, providing wisdom and strength to use as I march. I express my gratitude for the very much-needed second wind and take my armor to face the works of the oppressors before me; the shouts and sirens directed at us no longer have weight. The helicopters hovering above cease to worry me. I look at the crowd I march with, comrades from different walks of life, appreciating our synergy. I then look at my black brothers and sisters and the powerful armor they possess and enter a complete state of gratitude. Together with our armor, power, and beauty, our light will shine brighter and grow bigger and stronger than any rooted bad tree.
Paciencia y valor, my brothers and sisters, paciencia y valor.